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We are what we are

IT seems the overriding perception of Papua New Guinea by some in Australia is that we are an unsalvageable democracy on the downward slide to oblivion.
A recent article by columnist Geoffrey Barker in the Australian Financial Review has put a not too flattering conclusion on the ills that plague the Pacific’s largest indigenous sovereignty.

We are, by Barker’s estimation, a grossly mismanaged, politically and administratively corrupt, incompetent, dysfunctional and violent country.
Anyone reading this would automatically assume PNG to be a country somewhere between the extremes that are Afghanistan and Somalia.
This is indeed a dismal picture that one can paint of a neighbour.
But Barker, we must admit, has displayed a candor and journalistic license to berate and critique that only one who has watched from afar can attain.
It is true that Papua New Guinea faces many problems, the least of which is the contempt of some individuals in Australia.

We make no bones about the fact that we are mired in a self-perpetuating cycle of corruption which at times has threatened to engulf the 37-year-old state into chaos and anarchy.
What seems to be a hopeless case to the uninformed is in reality a country in a period of upheaval and growth common to many newly-born nations.

Thirty-seven years is but a pittance to the centuries other nations have had the benefit of in order to find an identity and build a social consciousness unique to its land and people.
What gives one pause to consider Barker’s dire prognosis is his almost arrogant indifference at what he perceives as Australia’s unchallenged and natural right to intervene on a scale hitherto unseen or practised since the first half of the 20th century.

Despite Australia having invested a large amount of aid money and advice since independence in 1975, Papua New Guinea continues to be the basket case of the Pacific.
That is true but how bad is the situation really, and what, if any progress, has been made and continues to be made in bringing PNG to an acceptable level of sound democratic governance, economic prosperity and complete independence?

Sadly, Barker like many Australians and foreigners, who have read and perhaps gotten a brief taste of life in the Third World, is blinded to an extent by the many negatives he sees in PNG’s short and eventful history.
We would hasten to add also what many in developed countries take for granted and unconsciously do when it comes to forming opinions on their lesser brethren –  they tend to inadvertently make comparisons through the lenses of a modern and developed society.

All fair we say, state the obvious and keep the rhetoric firmly on the side of a hard line stance toward a so called chronic case such as Papua New Guinea.
But please, do not preach intervention in its most extreme form.
We are not at war with another country, although internal conflicts abound.

We are not a famine-riddled, disaster-stricken nation although we have had our share of nature’s calamities.
We are what we are, a country that will take a while yet to find its feet in a diverse and ever-changing world.
Begrudge us not our right to grow at our own pace – if that is what it will take.
Clearly, years of well-meaning intervention have not brought the desired outcomes for all involved (us included) quickly enough, but here we are, still a democracy and still intact.

We have neither exploded nor imploded as some have predicted.
Have we come close on a number of occasions?
Yes. But is it a great sin to be a nation very much in the process of growth?